Parks are the story of our history and democracy. This anniversary shows what we have gained and what we have lost. Today, all our small 71 state parks if collected in one place total a square roughly 10 miles on a side. This is slightly larger than the city of Des Moines. They amount to only two-tenths of 1 percent of our state.
By the 1900s most of Iowa’s 36 million acres were either clear-cut logged, mined, grazed, drained, plowed or paved. As natural areas became fewer and privately owned, the public demanded a state park system. By 1937 Iowa led the nation in the establishment of state parks. Sadly, today we find ourselves competing for the very bottom in parks and public land.
Parks protected our natural beauty, provided public access and allowed these already altered areas to re-wild. They showed our maturity in protecting some sanctuaries for the future of all species.
We associate parks with recreation and scenery. But they also express our cultural values, leave a legacy and provide spiritual space. We continue developing them with roads, shelters, bathrooms, golf courses, playgrounds, nature centers, lodges, beaches, cabins, sewage lagoons, artificial lakes, paved trails and campgrounds.
Not one of these parks are maintaining their biological health and are losing species. They are separated from each other into tiny refuges of renewal in a vast monoculture landscape of rapidly decreasing biological diversity.
What are parks for? Will we have healthy parks in a hundred years?